The Long Road Back for Lubomir Visnovsky

Kevin Schultz

Islanders defender Lubomir Visnovsky hasn’t been seen on the ice for the Islanders — or even skating at practice for that matter — in three weeks. On October 19, against Carolina, Visnovsky took a hit on the end boards that went unpenalized but left him hunched over and needing help to get off the ice. Since then, it’s been radio silence for one of the Islanders most important defenders.

visnovskyVisnovsky was signed to a two-year extension last year and with the departure of Mark Streit, and was given the duties of playing point on the Islanders’ power play. He’s also played well at even strength, as part of a pairing with Thomas Hickey that dates back to the Isles hot streak last season.

In the short time span that Visnovsky ran the power play this year, it succeeded going 7-for-27 (26%) in eight games. Since then, they have gone 5-for-32 (16%), which may be partly due to missing him (as well as Matt Moulson) and part regression. During the last full season, 21% was the best NHL power play mark so 26% was unreasonable to expect to continue.

Regardless of the cause of the power play’s decline, the Islanders clearly do miss Visnovsky on the ice. His absence has forced other defenders into more prominent roles. It has caused Matt Donovan to play extra minutes with more than 17 minutes played in six of his last seven games, including more than 20 minutes against the Rangers in October. Aaron Ness has been called up from Bridgeport and yes, the Islanders signed Radek Martinek to a one-year insurance policy deal.

The bad news is, it doesn’t look like Visnovsky will be back on the ice any time soon. It’s been nearly three weeks and he hasn’t yet been cleared for activity of any kind, and even then, writes Arthur Staple, there are a lot of hills still to climb:

Even from there, hurdles remain — he needs to take and pass baseline neurological tests with every completed step, from off-ice (running/biking), to on-ice, to contact. So from the moment he’s cleared to resume off-ice activities, it’s still a two-week process at minimum.

For the benefit of the athlete, the guy with his brain at stake, this is the NHL’s procedure for concussions. The Islanders, to their credit, appear to be taking things very slowly and cautiously. The downside of all the caution and testing is that it takes a long time for everything to be back to normal (and it’s probably disingenuous for me to call this a “downside” when it should, in theory, benefit Visnovsky’s health long after his hockey career is done, which is more important).

The trouble and cause for the length of this whole process is that once a player has suffered a concussion, there can be devastating effects if a player returns to the ice too soon. Exhibit A is the most famous player in the league, Sidney Crosby, who has missed a combined 81 games spread out over three of the past four seasons due to concussion issues.

Crosby originally took a hit from David Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic that ‘rung his bell’, as the saying goes. He continued playing and a few nights later he was laid into by Victor Hedman and the rest is history, as he spent two years battling concussion symptoms.

Here’s some background on the sort of thing that happened to Crosby and how concussions can be complicated more than other types of injuries:

Concussion symptoms may not show up for 24-48 hours after the hit occurs, so rinkside testing may be worthless in some cases. Players need to be educated on the effects of returning too soon, such as second impact syndrome, which is brain swelling that can be life threatening if a second concussion occurs while still recovering from the first concussion. Another complication is post concussive syndrome. This is where concussive symptoms linger even after the concussion has resolved.

Visnovsky’s injury isn’t of the normal variety; one that can usually be assigned a length of time for absence and have a return date estimated. It’s about how he’s feeling today, tomorrow, after he goes through a full practice, and on. Hopefully for the Islanders they’ll get their power play chief back soon, but it’s impossible to say exactly when, if, and how long that will actually be.




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